Protest to Ambassador over Israel's retreat on Progressive prayer

Reform, Liberal and Masorti rabbis convey concern to Ambassador Mark Regev over decision not to expand egalitarian compound at the Kotel


Rabbis from Britain’s Reform, Liberal and Masorti movements have protested to the Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev over the Israeli government’s abandoning of plans to upgrade an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall prayer space.


In a meeting today with Mr Regev, they also expressed outrage over moves to recognise only conversions carried out in Israel under the aegis of its its strictly Orthodox-influenced Chief Rabbinate.


Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism, said, “We represent Progressive Judaism in the widest sense. These concerns are not just those of our members in the UK, but those of our sister movements in Israel.”


The delegation to the Ambassador included Rabbi Mark Goldsmith from the Reform movement, Masorti’s Rabbi Jeremy Gordon, Rabbi Lea Muehlstein, of the Progressive religious Zionist group Pro-Zion and other representatives.


They were responding to the Israeli Government’s decision to backtrack on promises to expand the egalitarian prayer space at Robinson’s Arch, south of the main Kotel plaza, which is used for non-Orthodox services.


Rabbi Goldsmith said: “When our Reform, Liberal and Masorti groups get to the space allocated for egalitarian services they discover no signposting, broken access lifts, no ability to enter from there to the Kotel plaza and a great wall which divides us from the main part of the Kotel. What message do you think that sends to us and to the Israeli Reform and Masorti movements?”


Rabbi Muehlstein commented, “The task of Progressive Zionists is already a difficult one – having to convince our congregants and our youth that we must positively engage with the state of Israel rather than focusing solely on the Occupation and that we must do so from within the Zionist institutions.


“The Prime Minister’s decision to reject a compromise that was reached across religious and political divides within the World Zionist Organisation undermines not just our position but the whole idea of a diaspora Zionist voice being heard by the government of the state of Israel.”


According to a statement by the delegation,  Mr Regev recognised the need for all groups to return to the table to seek a “workable compromise” and stressed Israel was "a homeland for all Jews".


Non-Orthodox groups have long hoped to overturn the status quo which denies recognition to Progressive or Conservative conversions in Israel. (Conversions done under non-Orthodox auspices in the diaspora are recognised for the purposes of the Law of Return.)


But Orthodox politicians are lobbying for a new bill which would give a monopoly on conversions to the state-controlled Chief Rabbinate, denying recognition even to independent Orthodox rabbinical courts.


Rabbi Goldsmith said, “Five thousand Israeli Jewish children are born each year whose Jewish status may not be accepted by the Israeli Orthodox Chief Rabbinate. Members of Masorti, Reform and Liberal Judaism fought hard for Jews who lived in the former Soviet Union to live full Jewish lives – the Jewish state must not now reverse this. Conversion is a critical issue for all Jews across the Reform, Liberal and Masorti movements as we build our Judaism together.”

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